Oakland dedicates new facility

Oakland Chinatown Corps celebrates 125 years of service in the Bay Area.

by Stefanie Segur –

A band plays at the dedication ceremony for the new Oakland Chinatown Corps facility.

Throughout this year, The Salvation Army in the San Francisco Bay Area is observing its 125th anniversary. The Army is in full celebratory mode, dedicating and opening a brand new building in Oakland Chinatown, opening a multi-million dollar Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district and enjoying a Salvation Army day of baseball at the Oakland Athletics vs. San Francisco Giants game.

A simple promise
It all started as a simple promise of soup, soap and salvation. The Salvation Army opened its doors to the Bay Area 125 years ago—in 1883—and began to serve people in need across Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose. As the area population grew, so did the need. Today, the promise has grown into something much bigger. The Salvation Army provides rehabilitation centers to those battling addiction, shelters for the homeless, day care centers for children, transitional housing to get individuals and families back on their feet, emergency food boxes, utility assistance and much more.

Oakland Chinatown
The highlight for the Del Oro Division was the dedication of the new Chinatown Corps building on 12th Street. This building will allow the Salvation Army to expand services and provides more space to help people.

The construction of the new Oakland Chinatown Corps did not necessitate a capital campaign. Its funding came through the sale of the old Chinatown Corps at 6th Avenue and Foothill. A donor appreciation dinner held in May with over 600 people raised nearly $25,000 for new furnishings and fixtures. Alameda County Advisory Board member Larry Westland and Oakland City Board member Mark Lindquist were among those who got the project up and running—Lindquist was the primary supervisor of the project. Through relationship building they garnered support from the city fire and police departments. The local authorities played an integral role in getting the building up to code.

A march of witness
Dedication day began with a March of Witness—hundreds participated by playing instruments, waving a flag, holding a banner or just marching in support of The Salvation Army and their community—and ended with the Territorial Commander Commissioner Philip Swyers dedicating the building. The march of witness included current and retired officers, staff and volunteers. Participants paraded through the streets of Chinatown from the old building to the new. The Oakland fire department joined in, following closely in their fire truck. The march also featured symbolic Chinese dragons and dancing.

Dedicated to serve
Current Divisional Commander Major Linda Markiewicz and the newly appointed divisional leaders, Majors Doug and Colleen Riley, introduced Salvation Army dignitaries and led the hundreds of onlookers in song. The person most excited about the new building was Corps Officer Major Grace Tse. She has lived in the Chinatown area since the 80s and has seen the area at its highest and lowest points.

“My promise to the community is that we will be there to help those in need, without discrimination and without question, every day,” said Tse. “I am excited to have these new and improved tools available to hold true to this promise.”

In his dedicatory remarks Swyers said, “I applaud all The Salvation Army has done in the Bay Area to help serve those in need. Staying true to the mission will only enable us to serve for another 125 years and beyond.”

Swyers presented a check from territorial headquarters for $200,000 to Tse. Accompanied by applause from the crowd and smiling from ear to ear, Tse held the check up high for all to see. She promised to use the money for the people because they are the ones who need it. The new Chinatown Corps is now debt free thanks to the support from the territory.

The dedication would not be complete without cultural dancing and performances by the youth songsters and the Oakland Chinatown songsters with Tse as leader. Women, young and old, participated in traditional dancing—the girls waved their ribbons rhythmically, and the women raised their hats and saluted—their hats were off to The Salvation Army. A Chinese dragon also performed—a sight many had never seen before. The dragon did a commemorative routine, complete with the setting-off of firecrackers.

Community services in full swing
This summer the programs of the Chinatown Corps are in full swing. The summer day camp welcomes 250 children. The camp employs leadership training: The older students become junior camp counselors for one year and do on-the-job training to become associate counselors for the following year with the hope that in the third year they will become full-fledged counselors.

“We are constantly recruiting new leaders for the future,” Alameda County Coordinator Major Patrick Granat said. “The goal is to keep a continuity.”

The Chinatown Corps also operates a senior feeding program that will expand with the added space of the new facility. The old building had the capacity to feed about 30 senior citizens daily. The new building can feed about 80 individuals daily. Emergency food boxes and utility assistance through PG&E’s REACH program (Relief for Energy Assistance through Community Help) currently operate through the Oakland Garden Street Center but will soon move to Chinatown. Though the corps primarily serves those of Chinese descent, there are non-Chinese participants in all of the programs. The corps also offers after-school programs to youth during the school year and evening programs for congregation members and young people.

Salvation Army Day at the ballpark
The 125th anniversary festivities continued when Salvation Army officers, staff, donors and volunteers were treated to a Salvation Army Day at the Oakland Coliseum for the Athletics vs. the Giants baseball game. An entire section was dedicated to Salvation Army supporters. Three hours prior to the game, emergency disaster service volunteers and corps officers from San Francisco, Napa and Petaluma were on hand providing bottles of water to the baseball fans.

The game, dubbed “the battle of the Bay,” is one of the most eagerly anticipated series of the season. The Salvation Army catered to the sell-out crowd of almost 35,000. It was a first experience for some. Many of the children, and a few adults, had never been to a professional baseball game or even a professional sporting event of any kind.

Swyers attended the game, further cementing his support for The Salvation Army in the Bay Area. The baseball game capped off a fun-filled weekend of 125th anniversary celebrations. The Salvation Army’s message of “125 years of service” was presented on the JumboTron inside the stadium several times, and a special 125th anniversary logo created for the occasion also appeared in full color for all the fans to see.

A year of celebration
The 125th Anniversary celebrations will continue throughout the year. Plans are underway for special events during the Christmas season. The Salvation Army in the Bay Area continues to stay true to the mission—promising to do the most good now and into the future.

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